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4-H Fridays filling need for Boundary County parents

| February 1, 2024 1:00 AM

BONNERS FERRY — It’s been several years since Boundary County School District 101 switched to a four-day week, closing on Fridays for budgetary reasons. 

Nonetheless, elementary-aged students in the rural North Idaho community now look forward to Fridays for especially engaging STEM-based educational lessons and activities, thanks to a University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development program that’s filling a crucial niche for parents. 

In partnership with the school district, the Extension office in Boundary County launched 4-H Friday Friends in 2006, providing an affordable educational option for students from kindergarten through fifth grade who might otherwise be left to their own devices. The district allows the program to use the library, gymnasium, cafeteria and equipment at Boundary County Middle School. Instruction is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays during the school year, with open enrollment. Parents are charged anywhere from $5 to $15 per day based on their ability to pay, and students needn’t enroll in 4-H to participate. 

Students pack their own lunches but are offered snacks. The program serves 15 students per Friday on average — with much higher enrollment on teacher in-service days when many of the district’s teachers drop off their young children. Roughly 60 students combined use the program each school year. 

“Parents really like the program because the flexibility makes it nice. They can drop them off before they go to work, or just if they need to run some errands without their children,” said Amy Robertson, a family and consumer sciences and 4-H Extension educator in Boundary County. “We’re short on day cares — it’s very difficult to even find a spot at a day care — and quite often they’re not getting the educational programming at day cares.”

Lesson plans using research-based curriculum, with an emphasis on STEM activities, are posted weekly on the 4-H Friday Friends Facebook page. 

Many of the program’s activities come from the county’s Think Make Create trailer, which is a mobile makerspace featuring several STEM lessons offered by several partners including UI Extension 4-H Youth Development. Local high school sports teams and clubs volunteer to help run 4-H Friday Friends, as do community volunteers. For example, the local fire department recently showed off a fire truck to the students, an AmeriCorps representative teaches a monthly lesson in robotics and a local baker gave them a demonstration in pastry decorating. 

The Extension office employs a part-time program coordinator who oversees the Friday sessions and works additional hours earlier in the week planning curriculum and shopping for snacks. The program also has a part-time assistant who works on Fridays.

Some area home-schooling-based charter schools count 4-H Friday Friends curriculum toward their educational requirements. Robertson has also worked with parents and stakeholders in Priest River, which recently adopted a four-day school week, on creating a similar program. 

The program has received funding support from several small grants, including through the Equinox Foundation and The Idaho Community Foundation.